What is a DNA Scholarship and How Do I Get One?

I mention DNA scholarships from time to time in my 52 Ancestor articles and sometimes in conjunction with other projects as well.

What, exactly, is a DNA scholarship? Who gets one?  How and why?

First, let’s talk a bit about the basics of how DNA works, because understanding that is fundamental to understanding why we have DNA scholarships in the first place, who qualifies and why. Not everyone has the DNA they need for testing specific genealogical lines – and scholarships are a way to obtain that information from others.  I think of it as a testing incentive to someone who is already interested at some level.

Every person can test their DNA, but each person carries a unique and very important type of DNA from just one or two very specific ancestors.

DNA for Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial

There are three kinds of DNA we can use for genealogy.

Mitochondrial DNA, carried by both males and females, is your mother’s mother’s mother’s line all the way up your tree until you run out of direct line mothers.

Y DNA, which only males carry, is inherited from the father’s father’s father’s direct paternal line which typically follows the surname.

The pedigree chart path of both Y (blue) and mitochondrial DNA (red) is shown on the pedigree chart below

Y and mito

You’ve probably noticed that the brother, or males, carry both blue Y DNA and red mitochondrial DNA, but the sister, or females, carry only red mitochondrial DNA.

Sisters, or females, pass mitochondrial DNA on to their offspring, but males don’t.

So, males can test for Y and mitochondrial DNA and females can only test for mitochondrial DNA. In either case, the mitochondrial DNA reflects the oldest direct matrilineal ancestor in that line.

Most (but not all) of the DNA scholarships that I offer are for Y and mitochondrial DNA lineages and Family Tree DNA is the only company that offers these types of genealogical tests.

Autosomal DNA

The third kind of DNA for genetic genealogy is autosomal DNA which allows testing for all of your ancestral lines and provides matching to others who carry the same DNA. The trick is, of course, that you have to look at your common genealogy to figure out why your DNA matches, meaning which ancestor you share.  Sometimes that quest is successful, and sometimes it isn’t.

Autosomal path

The reason autosomal DNA matching works is because you and the person you match have inherited a piece of the same DNA from a common ancestor. In the above chart, the DNA of the ancestors is colored blue, yellow, green, etc.  When you match someone else with a common segment, your goal is to determine which ancestor it came from.

Your autosomal DNA segments from any given ancestor become smaller and smaller over time with each generation, until eventually, they either become so small they don’t show up as matches, or you lose them altogether as more and more generations accrue between you and that ancestor. Ancestral DNA is “diluted” in a sense in every generation when the offspring receives half of each parent’s DNA.  The chances of carrying a particular distant ancestor’s DNA become less in each generation.

However, the Y and mitochondrial DNA are never diluted, because they are never admixed with the DNA of the other parent. They are passed intact, and therefore they provide a periscope back into the very distant past, but ONLY for that particular line.  In many cases, the haplogroup, or “clan” tells you a great deal about that ancestor, such as where they were from ancestrally.  There are African, Native American, Asian, Jewish and European haplogroups, and yes of course there is some overlap between some of those, but we have advanced tools to deal with that too.

Combining Autosomal DNA with Y and Mitochondrial

If you can discover the Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup of each of the ancestors on your tree, you can tell a great deal about them that may well have washed out in the autosomal DNA. For example, in the colored graph above, let’s say that the blue male line is unquestionably Native American and carries a distinctive Native American Y haplogroup, C-P39.

Using this example, if the blue male great-grandfather is 100% Native, which is very unlikely today, the “son’s” and “daughter’s” autosomal DNA would reflect something like 12.5% Native heritage.

However, if the blue great grandfather was himself only one eighth Native, he would have carried roughly 6.25% total Native autosomal DNA and his children would carry roughly 3.25%. The father in this chart would carry roughly 1.63% Native autosomal DNA and the children in the chart, only .81 or less than 1%, an amount which is generally not recognizable on autosomal ethnicity tests today.  It’s also possible that the Native autosomal DNA has “washed out” entirely by this time.

The good news is that the Y DNA is still 100% Native. So even though Native heritage may not be detectable today in the autosomal tests, it’s 100% confirmed in the Y DNA test for that line.  This makes Y DNA a very powerful tool.  Mitochondrial DNA works the very same way on the matrilineal line – it never gets diluted either.

But, what if your Native ancestor is not in either the Y (blue) or mitochondrial (red) lines that you can directly test for?  What if your Native ancestor is in the yellow, green, pink, grey, gold or aqua lines.  You won’t know what the DNA of those direct Y or mitochondrial lines tells you until you find someone appropriately descended from those lines to test.

DNA Beggars

You’ve now become a DNA beggar – begging for people who do descend from those lines through Y or mitochondrial DNA to test. If you’re a female, it can become immediately evident if you have no male siblings and your father is deceased.  In this case, you can’t test your Y DNA directly (because you don’t have a Y chromosome,) but you desperately need those results to flesh out your genealogy.

The good news is that this same information is important to other people too and they DO carry the Y or mitochondrial DNA of the lineage you need.

I call this process creating your DNA pedigree chart.  Here’s an example of mine with haplogroups, where known.

DNA Pedigree

The good news is that sometimes people from those lineages have already tested and you may be able to find them through either surname projects, Ysearch or Mitosearch. When I can’t find someone who has already tested, I try various methods to recruit a suitable candidate and sweeten the pie by offering a DNA scholarship.

DNA Scholarships

Given that you want other people to test their DNA to provide information for your common ancestor – the best way to obtain that is to offer to pay for the test. Hence, the DNA scholarship.  Some people don’t feel comfortable if I say I’m paying for a test.  Sometimes, in surname and haplogroup projects, people join forces to pay for tests for someone with a particular lineage.  Regardless of who pays, or how, the result is that a DNA scholarship is available for someone of a particular lineage.

Looking for a DNA Scholarship?

You’d actually be surprised how many scholarships, or free DNA tests, are available. The ISOGG Wiki holds a list under the title of “Free DNA Tests” at this link.

The scholarships I offer, listed below, are for one person, and when someone has taken that one test, the scholarship is no longer available. I’ll update this list as I add scholarships and as they are (hopefully) redeemed.

Mitochondrial DNA Testing Scholarship for anyone who descends through any from the following people (or their female siblings) through all females only. In the current generation, meaning you, males can test so long as there are only females between the male and the ancestor.

Y DNA Testing Scholarship for any male who descends from the following people through all males, meaning you carry the surname today:

  • Berchtol, Hans (1641/53-1711) Konken/Krottelbach, Germany, wife Anna Christina or Hans Simon Berchtol/Bechtel, wife Catherine, living in Steinwenden, Germany in the same timeframe
  • Bonnevie, Jacque dit “Beaumont” (c1660 Paris -1783 Port Royal, Acadia)
  • Combs, John (c1705-1762) Amelia County, VA or brother George Combs (b 1701/05-c1765) lived in Charlotte County, VA
  • Dorfler, Johann George (1732-1790), Speichersdorf and Wirbenz, Germany, married Anna Magdalena Buntzman, Johann Dorfler (1699-1779) Wirbenz married Anna Gerlin, Johann Dorfler (born c 1660) Wirbenz married Barbara Ehl
  • Drechsel, George (1823-1908), born in Speichersdorf, Germany, died Aurora, Indiana in 1908, married Barbara Mehlheimer, son John Edward Drexler lived in Cincinnati married to Lizzie Theisinger
  • Kirsch, Jacob (1841 Mutterstadt, Germany -1917 Aurora, Indiana) married to Barbara Drechsel, Philipp Jacob Kirsch (1806 Mutterstadt, Germany -1880 Ripley County, Indiana) married to Katharina Barbara Lemmert, Andreas Kirsch (1772-1819 Fussgoenheim, Germany) married Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler, Johann Valentin Kirsch (1744 Fussgoenheim – 1792 Carlberg, Germany) married Anna Margaretha Kirsch, Johann Wilheim Kirsch (b 1706 Fussgoenheim) married Maria Catharina Spanier, Johann Martin Kirsch (c1680 Fussgoenheim – 1741) married Anna Elisabetha Borstler, Johann Jacob Kirsch (c1660-Fussgoenheim-c1723) married Maria Catharina surname unknown, Jerg Kirsch (born c1630-died Fussgoenheim, Germany)
  • Mann, John (1725 Ulster, Ireland-1774 Botetourt Co., VA) married Frances Carpenter
  • Martin, Thomas (b 1577 Ringwould, Kent), father William Martin (died 1614)
  • Mercer, Edward (c1704-1763) married Ann, lived in Frederick County, VA
  • Woodrow/Woodward, Matthew born about 1550 probably Northborne, Kent

10 thoughts on “What is a DNA Scholarship and How Do I Get One?

  1. Firstly, let me say I love your work!

    Do you have a template available for us to use if we wanted to develop our own genetic trees.

    And some advice, do you suggest working bottom up or do you just try and get as many tested as possible and deal with any inconsistencies that emerge later?

    • You’re the second person to ask. Maybe Kitty Cooper could do something like this. I just used the graphic for the blue and red Y and mito DNA in Powerpoint.

      I started working bottom up but then I gave up and just took what I could find. Me being able to focus on a specific ancestor when doing my 52 ancestors has forced to really look and has actually been very helpful.

  2. Thank you so much for your blog Roberta! It might be time for me to actually consult with a professional. Do you do research for individuals or can you recommend someone? I am trying to identify the country of origin for my father’s paternal line (William Barnett b approx 1820 Canada) AND I’d like to know about one of his great great grandmother’s line’s. I tested my great aunt’s DNA (my father’s father’s sister) through 23andme. The results put me in touch with several people but we could not find the common ancestor because it was too far back and before decent records. She is nearing the end of her life and I’m wondering if I should ask her to do the mitochondrial test…that won’t help me find her father’s father’s mother’s dna though, or will it? It would help me learn more about her father’s father’s father though, but I guess I need a little more convincing that it’s worth it. My son’s father’s paternal line also has a dead end I’d like to solve and I also had my son’s grandfather test with 23andme. Same situation…met some nice folks but haven’t learned anything new about the line before about 1790.  I have a hard time fully understanding DNA, regardless of how many times I read about it 🙂 Thank you kindly!! Rose

    • If you don’t get her DNA into a facility that archives it so you can order tests at a later date, you’ll be very sorry. Family Tree DNA is the only company that does that. Comparing haplogroups only at 23andMe can go back thousands of years. That’s what actual markers and mutations are for. I don’t think I should be talking anyone into or out of testing:) But you’ll never know what you don’t know if you don’t do the available tests. My suggestion would be to test her mtDNA at the full sequence level directly at FTDNA. Also, test her at Ancestry.com and then transfer her autosomal results to FTDNA for $39. You can then load her results to GedMatch at asll and then you’ll have her info in all of the data bases and her DNA archived. Good luck to you.

  3. I stumbled here looking for classes..lol
    Of course I couldn’t resist the read. Here’s my question… Has anyone thought about exhuming said Ancestors, and testing them? Sounds iffy until you realize we kinda already do this in Archeology. Not sure of the legal issues/red tape…but I’ve wondered if anyone has tried?

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